Art and Death in A Yoruba Community

by Norma Wolff
Professor Emerita, Iowa State University

Egungun Ijanjuku. Yoruba peoples, Abeokuta, Nigeria. Photo by Norma H. Wolff.

The appearance of an egungun ijanjuku masquerader thrills the audience.  Rather than admiration, the violent and wild behavior of the ijanjuku masquerader provokes fear.  It may throw bad medicines at people so that they run when they see it coming.  While the egungun jeje such as the erin masquerader moves slowly and stops to dance, the ijanjuku strides with large steps and may suddenly lunge violently at the audience.  Attendants, usually young men, surround the masquerader to restrain its actions, often holding it with chains.  The egungun may be accompanied by other young men who have long whips made from tree branches which they use to whip themselves and to keep people far from the masquerader while simultaneously reinforcing the fear that the audience feels.